Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny review: Disney whips up a lively adventure
This one was hard to judge! As many know I'm a Indiana Jones Super fan always have been...but I was honest........It's not the years, it's the mileage… and in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, out June 30, the titular hero racks up plenty of thrilling miles in what is supposedly his farewell to the big screen.
We open on a younger Indy (a de-aged Harrison Ford in the best use of the often questionable technology to date) running for his life amidst the death throes of the Third Reich. Infiltrating a Nazi treasure trove, he and fellow academic/archaeologist Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) attempt to recover priceless historical artifacts from the retreating Nazis. On board a train, Indy encounters Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi mathematician intent on locating the Dial of Destiny, more formally known as Archimedes' antikythera, a cosmological device with potentially world-altering powers.
Flash forward to 1969 and the celebration of the moon landing in New York City. Indiana Jones is living alone. He mourns his son Mutt, who died in combat in the Vietnam War (an expedient end to the problematic specter of what to do about Shia LaBeouf's existence within the franchise); he's separated from Marion (Karen Allen); and he's now preparing to retire from Hunter College where he's been a professor for over a decade.
His lonely life is interrupted by the arrival of Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), his goddaughter, who is on the hunt for the antikythera with questionable motives. Helena's appearance and bid for the dial thrusts Indy into a new adventure where he must once again face off against Voller, who now goes by the name of Professor Schmitt, and stop his quest to return the Nazi regime to power.
Ford returns as Indy, but he's not merely a guy with a cool hat and a bullwhip with a few more lines on his face. Just as James Mangold did for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in Logan, he presents an Indiana Jones weathered by life — a man who has spent decades chasing down ancient artifacts and fighting Nazis.
Indiana Jones has always been a world-weary guy, cynical and full of wise cracks in the face of danger, but here, he feels like he's finally earned it. Ford's soulful, craggy face is the cipher for the lifetime of adventure, physical pain, and loss that Indy has endured. There's humor in that, as when Indy lists off some of the more ridiculous things he has done while scaling a wall with Helena. But there's sadness too, in the friends he's lost and the tragedy he has faced.
Ford has always lent Indy a humanity and depth that is too often ignored in favor of celebrating his capacity for dry one-liners and his rugged good looks (both well-deserving of the praise they've received). Here, he gets to unleash the emotional side of Indy, his reverence for history and love for those he holds dear visibly weighing him down. In 1969, as humanity looks to the future, Indiana Jones, a man dedicated to protecting the past, is a man out of place in his own time. Ford's curmudgeonly restraint barely conceals the open wounds of his losses.
Dial of Destiny is often best in its moments of quiet resonance, but it doesn't leave enough breathing room to maximize the impact of Ford's performance. Instead, the film volleys from one action sequence to the next, whether it be a dangerous dive into deep ocean waters, a horse race through New York City streets and subways(!), or a perilous car chase through Tangiers. Mangold crafts these scenes with precision, building them to a fever pitch and then throttling the accelerator when it seems the scene has peaked. This makes the pacing wonky, and more scenes of introspective Indy would have been welcome in exchange for shaving a few minutes off the nonstop danger. But that doesn't make the sequences any less exciting or nerve-wracking, generating an old-school adventure energy reminiscent of the original trilogy.
Unlike the monkey swinging or the infamous nuclear explosion refrigerator nonsense of Crystal Skull, the action here also feels utterly believable. The physical toll it takes on an older Indy is palpable, the stakes higher because of the acknowledgement of his mortality. At his best, Indiana Jones has always been a hero that feels utterly human. Maybe a little smarter than the rest of us, but no less earthbound. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, when he takes a punch to the jaw, we feel it — and Dial remembers that Indy's greatest asset is his conspicuous humanity in the face of peril.
Waller-Bridge, who leaped from Fleabag's critical acclaim to writing for James Bond and starring in an Indiana Jones flick, is a saucy, slippery foil to Ford. Where Marion was feisty and reckless, and Dr. Henry Jones (Sean Connery) was persnickety and gruff, Helena is whimsical and brash. Her loyalties shift faster than sand in an hourglass, keeping Indiana Jones, and by extension, the audience, on their toes. Waller-Bridge has a winking sense of humor as a performer that imbues her natural ability to make the audience believe they're her confidantes while remaining delightfully unpredictable.
Mikkelsen, a prince of silver-tongued, elegant villainy, is under-used. Jürgen Voller lacks distinction as a villain, possessing neither the naked ambition of Belloq (Paul Freeman) from Raiders or the self-serving sycophancy of Walter Donovan (Julian Glover) in Last Crusade. While his goons are outright unhinged, Voller is chilled cardboard, a Nazi who lacks any personality besides his commitment to the ideals of Nazism. His villainy lacks teeth, but perhaps that's because the notion of bringing fascism back feels like a day-to-day occurrence in our world. He's not half so frightening as anything on the nightly news.
Dial of Destiny is 85 percent of a delightful return to form for the franchise and 15 percent absolutely ludicrous climax. We won't spoil the reveal, but suffice it to say it leans too heavily into a plot point that Marvel and DC have exhausted in recent years — and the temporal, geographical place it decides to take its climactic sequence is both outlandish and entirely too on-the-nose.
It's not that Indiana Jones hasn't always built its stories around fantastical ancient artifacts. (See: the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones, the Holy Grail, and, sigh, the Crystal Skull.) The antikythera is as good a McGuffin as any other (and it is based on a real scientific device from ancient Greece). But while the mystical, inexplicable power of objects like the Ark and the Grail have the capacity to shock and awe, the antikythera is merely a tool for a tired trope with a payoff that verges on tritely absurd.
One can understand the allegorical impulse of the storytelling device. This older, probably not wiser version of Indiana Jones is one who feels as much a relic as the artifacts he's dedicated his life to studying and preserving. It's hard to resist literalizing the metaphor in a story where the hero is made to feel like time has passed him by. But it doesn't land the way the filmmakers intended, instead undercutting Indy's reckoning with history and his place in it.
It's a testament to Ford's performance and the movie's overall effectiveness that this disappointing climax doesn't outweigh how much fun it all is. Much like the entries of the original trilogy, at its heart, Dial is a rip-roaring adventure that borrows more from the cinematic language of golden age swashbucklers than modern blockbusters.
In a sense, Indiana Jones has always been about nostalgia. Steven Spielbergand George Lucas set out to make movies that evoked the 1940s serials they loved growing up. That operates on two levels in Dial of Destiny, both in the film's historical setting and our own yen for the way the original movies made us feel.
Dial uses nostalgia as an appetizer, not a main course, and it's absolutely delicious for it. Nothing feels pandering, but rather each nod to the past is welcome in its measured distribution, as cozy and familiar as a favorite sweater or reconnecting with an old friend. Speaking of, Sallah (John Rhys-Davis) is back, but mainly as a vestige of the life Indy feels he's lost. Sallah too yearns for their shared past.
There are nods to our hero's well cataloged hatred of snakes, a cheeky reversal of the Raiders bringing a knife (or whip) to a gunfight, plenty of traveling by map, and a tear-jerking return to kissing where it doesn't hurt, all set to the core memory sounds of John Williams' inimitable score (including a new theme for Helena!).
Much has been made of the fact that Dial will be Ford's last outing in the franchise. The movie has been billed as a send-off for Indiana Jones, but it doesn't feel definitive, particularly when the film's final shot makes a very decisive point about Ford/Indy hanging up the hat.
If it is indeed the last we'll see of Ford's Indiana Jones, it's a far more satisfying goodbye than where we last left him. But Dial makes one thing clear: whatever happens next, this franchise still has fresh skullduggery left to explore. Indiana Jones does not (and will never) belong in a museum. He's far too vital for that; his mileage, as a character and a pop culture icon, is infinite. Grade: B+